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2004 New York Auto Show, Part I (4/6/2004)
Before the doors open, the floodgates do.

 

Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee arrives in showrooms this fall not a moment too soon. With buyers moving into bigger SUVs and the Grand Cherokee’s mild 1998 makeover beginning to show wrinkles, the brand’s sales have been flagging without the usual strength of its core product.

For the 2005 model year the new Grand Cherokee delivers on most of the goods that have become standard issue in the most hotly competitive SUV niche, save for a seven-passenger version (due in about a year, and possibly dubbed the Wagoneer, if Detroit insiders are correct). Revamped styling that draws on Jeep’s heritage plays a major role in the redo, but Jeep also promises that the new Grand Cherokee delivers a better ride and best-in-class traction.

But the big addition to the Grand Cherokee lineup that will appeal most to enthusiasts is undoubtedly the appearance of the HEMI engine in the Jeep lineup. With it, the new vehicle is the most powerful Grand Cherokee ever: the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 pushes out 325 hp in this application, with ninety percent of peak torque available from 2400 to 5100 rpm. The HEMI Grand Cherokee also will feature the Multi Displacement System that shuts off half the engine’s cylinders during low load driving to boost fuel efficiency as much as 20 percent. The Cherokee also will be available with a 3.7-liter V-6 that replaces the hoary 4.0-liter in-line six while producing more power and equivalent torque. The 4.7-liter V-8 from the previous generation carries over to the new vehicle. Each of the three engines is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

As in previous editions, the Grand Cherokee offers multiple methods of transmitting power to its four wheels. In addition to a rear-drive version (which accounts for a quarter of all the nameplate’s sales, Jeep says), the Grand Cherokee can be had with one of three four-wheel-drive systems: Quadra-Trac I, which uses a single-speed transfer case for full-time four-wheel drive; Quadra-Trac II, which adds a low range gear; and Quadra-Drive II, which features electronic limited-slip differentials in lieu of the Vari-Lock axles of the previous generation for the best off-road capability of the lineup.

2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee

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Tying it all together is a new suspension that grants independence to the front end, for what Jeep says will be a best-in-class ride and better handling than in the last-gen Grand Cherokee. For the first time, rack-and-pinion steering will determine the direction, giving more precision to the steering and keeping the turning circle tight at 37.1 feet. The rear end remains a live-axle setup.

As for styling, the newfound crispness in the Grand Cherokee’s roofline and detailing is a conscious nod to the Cherokee heritage established through the 1970s and 1980s when the ur-Grand Cherokee was the Jeep mainstay. The much-contested seven-slot front grille is now flanked by round headlamps more in style with the Liberty and Wrangler than before, while the longer hood recalls the Wagoneers of the 1960s. Larger taillamps show the modern influence of Dodge’s great new Durango. And while it seems more graceful and elongated, Jeep says the new Grand Cherokee remains firmly “right-sized” — leaving ample room for larger Jeeps yet to come.

The Grand Cherokee’s looks to be far more substantial and richer in feel, just like the other most recent Chrysler Group products. The panel is two-toned for a richer feel, and the center stack is canted and separated from the instrument panel in an interesting way. New equipment includes available GPS navigation, a rear-seat DVD system and a Boston Acoustics audio system.

Jeep says Job One will happen sometime in the third quarter at the Detroit factory that supplies North America, while Euro versions will emerge from the Magna Steyr assembly plant in Graz, Austria, in 2005. No pricing information has been released, but expect a minimal increase if any from the previous generation.

2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Base Price: $25,000 (est.)
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6, 210 hp/235 lb-ft; 4.7-liter V-8, 230 hp/290 lb-ft; 5.7-liter V-8, 325 hp/370 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 186.6 x 73.3 x 67.7 in
Wheelbase: 109.5 in
Curb weight: N/A
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 16/21 mpg (V-6); 14/20 mpg (4.7); 14/21 mpg (HEMI)
Safety equipment: Front airbags, anti-lock brakes
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles basic, seven years/70,000 miles powertrain

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